TOUGH LUCK by R.D. Rosen


Sid Luckman, Murder Inc., and the Rise of the Modern NFL
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An intriguing, long-overlooked tale from the annals of early professional football.

Sid Luckman (1916-1998), writes Rosen (Such Good Girls: The Journey of the Holocaust’s Hidden Child Survivors, 2014, etc.), “once led the most feared team in the National Football League—the ‘Monsters of the Midway’—to five national championship appearances and four titles in seven years,” a gridiron hero lionized by a generation but then, it seems, definitively forgotten. In opening, the author wonders why, noting that Luckman, a quarterback who did much to popularize the pro game, had never before been the subject of a biography. Luckman wasn’t much to sing his own praises, granted, but there was also something that he wanted to distance himself from—namely, his father’s involvement in the Jewish/Italian crime syndicate called Murder, Inc., involvement that included the murder of his brother-in-law and a long stretch in prison. “He chose to spare his loved ones the burden he was used to carrying almost alone,” writes Rosen, and so Luckman did, even if the game he played was not without its criminal aspects, mostly the gambling that surrounded it. As the author notes, Luckman’s name did once “show up in one inconvenient place”: the notebook kept by a mobster who specialized in sports gambling. Luckman did his best to play through the personal turmoil, throwing 135 touchdown passes in his first 10 seasons and becoming a master of the T formation but then fading away in the 1950s. There are many moving parts to the story, and Rosen does a good job of keeping the narrative clear and moving smoothly. One of the more complex of those parts highlights the political uses the Manhattan district attorney, Thomas Dewey, made of the prosecution of Murder, Inc.’s chiefs, who fell one by one.

Vigorous storytelling at the intersection of sports and crime history.

Pub Date: Sept. 3rd, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2944-4
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly
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